Twenty-one female Egyptian protesters sentenced to 11 years behind bars will walk free after an appeals court commuted their harsh sentences.
The 14 women and seven girls were arrested on Oct. 31 during a protest in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi. They were convicted on charges ranging from participation in an illegal gathering to thuggery. (Via Al Jazeera)
The court's 11-year sentence for the demonstrators provoked a wave of criticism, both in Egypt and throughout the international community.
"It was seen as a particularly shocking sentence in view of the fact that some convicted killers in this country have been given shorter terms." (Via BBC)
The sentence was also condemned by Human Rights Watch as a violation of the protesters' right to assembly:
"Prosecuting these young women for participating in a demonstration, while security forces who killed hundreds of protesters roam free, should shock our collective conscience."
And on Thursday, the Egyptian appeals court reversed the decision, in favor of a one-year suspended sentence for the women and three months of probation for the girls. (Via CNN)
The brother of one of the imprisoned girls shared his family's jubilation over the decision with The Telegraph: "My father and my mother's hearts were about to stop before this ruling. We cried. It has been a very tough experience, but God gave us patience."
But although the court's decision allows the protesters to walk free, one Egyptian defense lawyer says the appeals court should have gone further and overturned the sentence entirely.
"Thank God the girls will be going home. That is what we cared about. ... But the ruling today is still a conviction, a sentence they don't deserve." (Via Al Arabiya)
And despite this show of leniency, Egypt shows no sign of letting up on public protests in the near future. A new Egyptian law signed last month forbids unauthorized public gatherings, making anti-government demonstrations much, much riskier.